Neil McNicholas: Can it ever be right to help someone die?

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There is a moral dimension to the assisted dying dilemma, so why is no one talking about it?

LEGISLATION is turning its attention to the termination of adult lives and the possibility of offering legal protection to those wanting the right to assist others to end their life.

Next month, MPs are set to debate and vote on a Private Members’ Bill that will legalise assisted suicide in this country and yet, given the momentous consequences of such a law being passed, very little, if anything, has so far been said about it in the media.

A suspicious mind might wonder whether this is deliberate, with the hope that the process might slip quietly under the radar.

During his 2010 visit to this country, and specifically on his visit to the elderly residents of St Peter’s care home in London, Pope Benedict XVI said: “Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary. Life is a unique gift, at every stage from conception until natural death, and it is God’s alone to give and to take.”

Whilst I appreciate that you, the reader, may not necessarily share my (Catholic) Christian views, the catechism of the Church teaches that: “Christian faith gives us reason to cherish life as a gift from God, and also gives reason to accept death, when it comes, with hope in God. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us – it is not ours to dispose of. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is (therefore) contrary to the moral law.”

Permitting people to take their lives, or others to assist them, is not a moral option. If someone facing severe physical or mental incapacity, or terminal illness, is contemplating ending their life as an alternative to what they perceive their future to be, far from being allowed to put that decision into practice, either by themselves or with the assistance of someone else (and why do they have to involve others?), surely they should be helped to see that there are other options open to them.

Whether in a hospice, or at home with nursing support, compassionate palliative care can help them live as comfortably as possible, and with dignity, until death comes naturally.

What frightens a lot of people – especially the elderly and more vulnerable – and rightly so, is that the legislation being contemplated might permit someone else to decide that their life “is not worthwhile”. And where in recent history have we seen a concept like that put into practice?

That same thought crossed my mind recently when I read the misguided comments of the so-called “media personality” and ex-Big Brother contestant (maybe that says it all) Kate Hopkins. She insisted that: “There are too many old people. It is ridiculous to live in a country where we can put dogs to sleep, but not people”.

Asked for her solution, she suggested “euthanasia vans, just like ice cream vans, that would come to your home”. Apparently she is about to host a panel show called If Kate Hopkins Ruled the World. God forbid she ever would when she has so little regard for the elderly, holds people in no higher regard than dogs, and would bring “mercy killing” to our doorsteps.

What should be an additional cause for concern is that she is far from being alone in her outlook on life, as she sees it, and on death.

Parliament abolished capital punishment in the United Kingdom in 1999, completing a legislative process that began with the Murder (Abolition of the Death Penalty) Act of 1965.

Opponents of capital punishment rightly claim, as you often hear it expressed, that the state should not be in the business of taking lives.

Yet our parliamentarians are now considering making it legal to assist others in ending their lives.

Where is the same voice of protest? Because the state quite clearly is making the taking of lives its business whether we like it or not.

And if we don’t like it, then we need to say so.

Father Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm. He used to serve in Whitby.